Is she gone? Ok…
I have long considered myself A Writer – in the broader sense of the phrase – whether I get paid for it or not. The money that occasionally comes with it (while nice) is immaterial to how I view myself. After all, why should the level of remuneration determine who or what I am? I don’t want to be a part of a society where we are all just the sum-total of how big our wallets are. Is that really how I am supposed to measure my self-worth? Writing is what I do. It’s what I have always done, and I will continue to do it for as long as I’m here. Period. Pay me lots or pay me nothing – it doesn’t matter to me; I’m a writer either way…
…But over the last couple of years, the writing has nearly killed me. That’s not a figure of speech or an exaggeration; nor is this, as the stand-ups would say, a ‘bit’. I was close to no longer being alive, and – although there were several contributory factors (both emotional and physical) – in my head, the writing has been the root cause of everything, and it almost pushed me over the edge without the proverbial parachute.
Very often my words will reflect, to some degree, what’s going on beyond the two-dimensional world of the keyboard, and as such you will find most of the key moments in my life have been marked, referenced, and represented in my fiction at some point and in some way. But as cathartic and liberating as that can be, the writing is predisposed to darkness, so it means I’m invariably taken to some murky places.
I have been depressed. Most of the people around me would probably argue my ability to perform such a self-diagnosis, but that doesn’t matter. I was. Sometimes you don’t need a degree or a comfortable couch to see depression in the mirror; in the same way that if there’s a bone sticking out of your knee, you know (at the very least) that you’ve broken your leg. I just saved everyone a little bit of time. I’m not saying it lightly, nor am I trying to court sympathy, but it is true. Perhaps I still am depressed: I don’t really know for sure. What I do know is that I’m coping better with the demons inside my head today than I was then.
I read an article a while ago that suggested creative people (and, for the sake of argument I’ll go ahead and include myself in there) are more susceptible to depression than people in any other walk of life. Even dentists. But don’t take my word for it: Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Mark Twain are just a handful of the famous authors who have suffered. It’s something to do with the way we are designed – the way we are programmed to think. We’re just different. We have hidden depths, and sometimes a mind can lose its way down there. I know that is certainly true of me and mine.
Well, I’ve been here, alone in this metaphoric room, for a long time. There is little light, and I have no key for the door. There have been long periods when I didn’t think I would make it back out – and perhaps more importantly, moments when I didn’t care if I did. I think it’s difficult for ‘non-creatives’ (to coin a phrase) to empathise, and that’s not intended to sound as pretentious as it possibly does. I’m merely talking from experience, and the people I have surrounded myself with over the years.
Why don’t I just give it up then?
Well, you see, the thing about the writing is – I am not really in control of it. I never have been. Now of course, the negative suggestion within that admission is that the writing is something I do not wish to do, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have always wanted to write, and I am glad that I can do so to a (seemingly) reasonably high standard, but it is an addiction of sorts. I cannot not do it. It’s my drug of choice. Writers will often say similar things in an attempt to romanticise their craft, or to create an enigma, but I’d like to present it more as… why.
For the majority of the time I write whatever needs to be written. Sometimes other parts of my life are temporarily knocked off balance by this. I forget things. I zone out of conversations and into whatever world I’m creating for my characters. I can be short-tempered and (even by own standards) overly sarcastic. I occasionally don’t see the bigger picture, or what’s going on around me in the ‘real world’, if I’m focused on the detail of a story. Usually the upset is temporary, but infrequently the collateral damage leaves scars, and sometimes those scars don’t heal all that well. In the past, I have always scored these off as necessary evils, but in my darker moments I often question the validity of it all, and the impact my passion has had on those around me.
So in short, the writing has simultaneously enhanced my life, and very nearly destroyed it. I don’t know where I’d be without it, but I certainly don’t think I’d be… me. It is a fundamental part of who I am. It has come to define me, and – for better or worse – I have to accept that.